Jamie Brown knows he is one lucky young law graduate. Just two days after his final exam at Sheffield Hallam this summer, he was suited, booted and behind a desk, learning the ropes.
“A lot of my former classmates are still desperately trying to find training places. They are few and far between - and unfortunately, it’s still a case of who you know.
“It’s tough on would-be lawyers, and unfortunate for the industry; loads of people who would be very good at the job never get that foot in the door. A friend who got a first in law is now on a training scheme with a car rental company.”
For Jamie, it was a different story. He is following in the footsteps of his grandfather David and dad Ian at Wosskow Brown, the family law practice in Attercliffe.
Even though the easy route was there for him, becoming a lawyer was not his original plan. He wanted to be a car mechanic.
Fate helped change his mind. A plan to do school work experience with a garage fell through at the last minute. “I was 14 and they didn’t have the right insurance. I had nothing else arranged so dad suggested I go to work with him,” says the 22-year-old.
“He had never tried to push me into the law as I thought I’d hate it, but I loved it. The highlight was being taken to Sheffield Crown Court and seeing lawyers in action. Suddenly I could see I had nearly walked away from a huge opportunity.”
Jamie, who colleagues have nicknamed Jamie Green, gets no special treatment and duties including tea-making. He will be a para-legal for the firm for a year and will then do a two-year part-time legal practice course at Sheffield University around his job. After that, he hopes to work in commercial law and business recovery, like his father and grandfather before him. “I love the ins and outs of how big companies work and the idea of helping them problem-solve,” he says.
Ian and David have a deep understanding of how businesses work - they both ran companies in building and manufacturing before becoming lawyers.
David, now 70 and the company’s financial partner, still describes himself as an entrepreneur.
Before he went to university at 36 he had set up his own builders’ merchants, gone into manufacture with an underground drainage system he invented, set up a string of DIY stores and snapped up Attercliffe’s former Banners department store, the first floor of which is now Wosskow Brown’s head office.
He did his articles with lawyer Michael Wosskow at city firm Russell and Cresswick, then set up an office at Banners, which Michael Wosskow later joined as partner.
Ian came into the firm in 1992 at the age of 26. It had not been his first choice of career, either. Without O-levels he studied business at college and ended up working in a quarry. He got into their distribution office, rose to manager and bought a plant-hire company. He sold on after a year and set up other businesses. “When I ran out of money dad offered me a job. I had no desire to be a solicitor; I didn’t like studying,” he admits. “But dad was specialising in business recovery and I had loads of experience in that.”
After a time as the office dogsbody, Ian was persuaded by his dad to go to Sheffield Hallam University as a mature student. The father of two fitted studies around a full-time job. He says: “It was really daunting but I’m a grafter. I was 31 by the time I got my 2:1 in law. I found I’d got an aptitude after all.”
Ever since, he has worked on growing the company. First the personal injury department, then the probate and property divisions were expanded. The company has gone from seven employees to 82 and is proud of the fact that between them they speak nine languages - from Mandarin to Russian and Urdu. Says Ian: “A lot of law firms have fallen because they are experts in their fields but don’t have the business acumen to run their firm and expand. When I took the baton I felt I had to take the business further.”
Jamie has seen first his grandfather, then his father, turn their ambition and drive into reality.
Today Wosskow Brown, a Yorkshire Law Firm of the Year, have an impressive track record of helping individuals with wills and house sales and businesses of all types and sizes. The company motto is: “experienced business people first, award-winning solicitors second.”
He knows one day it will be his turn. And that he has two tough acts to follow.
Probably more than any other city lawyer, David Wosskow has experienced the extreme ordeals life and business can throw at you.
In 1977, his business partner Richard Moran was brutally murdered along with his adopted daughter and his parents-in-law in the case that came to be known as The Pottery Cottage murders.
Escaped convict Billy Hughes overpowered two prison warders taking him to Chesterfield Magistrates Court to answer rape and assault charges, went on the run and forced his way into Pottery Cottage, Eastmoor, the home of Arthur and Amy Minton.He held them, their daughter Gill Moran, her husband Richard and adopted daughter Sarah captive for several days before killing all but Gill.
Hughes was shot dead by a police marksman as he tried to make his escape with Gill as a hostage.
Remembers David: “Richard and I had founded a manufacturing company making a plastic drainage pipe system and he was our sales director at the time. He rang in sick on the Wednesday - the murderer had forced him to make the call and by Friday he was dead. It was a terrible shock.”
Within days, there was further tragedy; the director of the Irish company who had become a major shareholder in the business was killed in a car crash.
David moved into property and set up a string of DIY shops, but when B&Q and Wickes went national he was forced to sell up everything but the Banners building. Even his home went.
“After many ups and downs in business my wife Glynes asked me to get a proper job, and as I’d never met a lawyer with a real idea of business, I went to university to set out to be one at 36. I wanted to help business people get the right advice,” he says.
Further drama was in store, though. In 1989, David and his wife were taken hostage when a gunman broke into their home. They eventually managed to flee through a bedroom window.
A heart attack four years ago caused David to take stock and spend more time away from the business, and a fall while on holiday in Madeira caused a massive bleed on his brain. Major surgery saved his life and it has taken him almost three years to fully recover.
“Despite the many lows, David says he feels he has led a charmed life and believes his entrepreneurial spirit is what enables him to bounce back time after time.
He says: “If a problem occurs, no matter how major it is you have to find a way to move on from it and stay positive.”